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Right idea, shame about the target. Carl Icahn saw value in old media companies early. If he had bought a stake in Disney, News Corporation or Comcast last year he would be sitting on a healthy profit. Instead he chose Time Warner. Its shares have fallen in the past 12 months, while those of the other three have all risen by about 10 per cent or more.
Even so, he is hunkering down for a long game. In recent months he has increased his Time Warner stake. It now accounts for about 27 per cent of his fund. With such a concentrated position he would be pushed to justify buying more. Instead he is now offering his clients the chance to ramp up their own exposure to Time Warner through a special purpose vehicle administered by him. That could feasibly increase his voting clout if he takes another tilt at Time Warner management.
Mr Icahn’s persistence has some logic. After all, a 30 per cent rise in Comcast’s shares since January has not helped Time Warner – even though about 40 per cent of its earning before interest tax depreciation and amortisation come from cable. At the same time, however, businesses such as filmed entertainment and publishing have not been at their best. And AOL remains unpredictable given the scale of its planned transformation.
Time Warner needs a catalyst. That could be the listing of a minority stake in cable early next year – although investors should already be able to value that asset appropriately. Another would be proof of an AOL turnround. Again, that could be some quarters away.
It looks feasible that, if Time Warner’s shares remain lifeless into the winter, Mr Icahn will again try being a catalyst himself. If so, the difference compared with last time around could be a bigger willingness within Time Warner itself to consider more radical action.